Surely you have heard of Social Teeth—you know Elaine Chang’s startup, that within just a few months of its founding, received press from all over the place. Press as in Time magazine, Inc, and Forbes. The site allows friendly uploading of an anyone’s political campaign, and allows users to make monetary donations to support said campaigns.
Now a year old, Chang’s site was the site to log on for politicos for this past election. Here she is discussing her venture with Gigberry.
How did the concept for Social Teeth originate?
You know, a lot of things were floating around in my mind at the time—the news about Super PACs, ideas about street art, the power of crowdsourcing and sharing structures. But the core of the issue was this–when I walked around San Francisco or Chicago or Milwaukee–the majority of the people I encountered would likely have “alternative stories.” By this I mean that they would describe their lives in a different way than the mainstream media does. And they would probably talk about political problems in a vastly different way than mainstream media or our politicians. So I built Social Teeth to give these people a way to communicate who they are socially and politically.
As a country we are facing really monumental decisions–like how we should take care of our sick and our poor as a society, how fast and with what methods we should balance the budget and pay off our debts. We are having big conversations about these decisions, but what issues we talk about and when and how these issues are framed are determined by a small minority of people. I just got really interested in this question, of how to give the common person a sense of taking part in American democracy in a big, meaningful way. And I decided that I want to give people a meaningful way to participate in the national conversation.
Can one’s social teeth be too sharp?
If we’re talking about wit, nope. I would love to see Social Teeth put up political ads that are 2 or 3 orders of magnitude more intelligent than what’s out there now. And that doesn’t seem incredibly hard, because those ads can be very issue-focused, and they don’t necessarily have to correspond with the entire platform of a particular party.
Having a start-up can be exciting. But what are some of the challenges that you’ve had to deal with?
The biggest challenge is “managing your own psychology.” Ben Horowitz wrote an article about how that is the most difficult aspect of being a CEO. A lot of what he says is for companies that are much farther along than Social Teeth. But on a daily basis I question my sanity and my ability to make any kind of dent in this huge, critical problem of a non-participatory democracy. Social Teeth is unproven; success is not assured. In fact, statistically-speaking, success is extremely unlikely. So the biggest challenge is staying in that mindset where everything is possible and where you want to fight as hard as you can to make it happen.
Do you find that the people who you deal with, whom are older than you, tend to doubt your abilities?
Sure. It helps to fake confidence when I need it, because most of the time I’ve done the prep work and I know what I want or what I need in a certain meeting. But also, I do have to ask questions and acknowledge when I don’t know. And spend time desperately researching things on the web. Because yeah. I’m 24.
What’s the biggest error an entrepreneur can make?
It’s hard to say when you’re in the thick of it. Ask me again in a year!
Social Teeth taps on the power of the Internet. Do you think that something bigger than the Internet will come along?
Do you think you could spend a day, or perhaps a month without technology, including your phone?
If Social Teeth weren’t happening at that time? Sure. I would read, and go running, and probably draw a lot of childish pictures. It would be great.
What’s next for you? Entrepreneurs tend to have serial ventures at times.
It may or may not involve a reality TV show. I can’t say more.
You must have plenty of advice for other entrepreneurs who want to launch.
Choose the idea that haunts you, the idea that you maybe try to forget but keeps knocking on your consciousness. Don’t worry about monetizing it yet, or about how exactly it’s going to work.
There are no doubt days when things get crazy. How do you keep yourself from getting insane?